Ask anyone you know what the overwhelming king of console RPGs might be and nine times out of ten you’ll hear Final Fantasy in response. Across Squaresoft’s ten seminal adventures, players have been taken to unique worlds, each one populated with diverse and memorable characters, challenging bosses and intriguing monsters. The one thing that players could always count on from a Final Fantasy game was an engaging plot full of twists and turns with a central theme, like love, justice or revenge.
Initially released on the Famicom in 1987, (crossing shores to the NES three years later), the original Final Fantasy was an epic quest that defined the genre, establishing benchmarks that were only met by successors in the series. Tragically, not all of the Final Fantasy games made their way to America, a sin that Squaresoft started to remedy with Final Fantasy and Anthology Chronicles and continues to atone for with Final Fantasy Origins. Origins revisits the first Final Fantasy, and also includes the never released (on U.S. Shores) Final Fantasy II for the PlayStation.
Take a little trip back in time with me, if you don’t mind. I remember initially borrowing Final Fantasy from a friend over the Thanksgiving break in 1990, and quickly found myself addicted to the game. In fact, with the exception of hygiene, sparse catnaps and minor interaction with family, I rarely let the controller leave my hand for about a week. Shortly after finishing and returning the cartridge to my friend, I immediately hit the store and bought my own copy of the game, seeking to prolong my exploits through the game…That, and to try a completely different party and see how well I did. Overall, I probably played through the game with a variety of Light Warriors more than 5 times in two months.
Anyway, the first Final Fantasy placed players in a realm that had been plunged into darkness by Garland and the four Fiends of Chaos, elemental creatures that sought to destroy the world from within. In their wake came numerous monsters and disasters, many of which devastated kingdoms and the countryside. The only hope to defeat these monsters came in the form of the legend of the Light Warriors, heroes who would arise one day with an orb designed to banish the Fiends. Ranging from the deadly Warrior and Monk, the stealthy Thief and the varied magic of the Red, White and Black Mages combined in any configuration of four adventurers for a party. Just like most RPGs, characters take on side quests and advance in levels after defeating monsters, gaining new attacks and skills. However, Final Fantasy also featured a massive character class shift, reflecting high-level characters, turning fighters into Knights, Black Belts or Wizards with new abilities and powers.
Final Fantasy II, by contrast, features no legendary heroes or foretold prophecies of good winning out over evil. Instead, it starts tragically, set in a land where a wicked emperor had taken over the throne of Palamecia and was quickly amassing an invincible army, bolstered by extra-dimensional demons. The Kingdom of Fynn, a small but powerful land, was the first to revolt against this force, but it was also one of the first to fall as well. Obliterating everyone in sight, the few survivors flee to a small town named Altair, hoping to rebuild their lives and continue the fight another day.
Your characters in FFII aren’t heroes, mercenaries or villains. Instead, players take control of four newly orphaned youths seeking revenge against the empire that murdered their parents in the siege of Fynn. Taking this sense of amateur adventurer to heart, FFII instituted a revolutionary concept for character advancement (at the time): that of skill proficiency. While each one of the four youths show natural aptitude towards hand-to-hand combat or spell casting, the gamer basically decides how each character develops through the game. Characters that constantly cast spells lose strength and endurance, eventually leaning towards magic use, while more physical characters lose intelligence, becoming proficient killers. What’s more, FFII also started the concept of interchangeable party members in the Final Fantasy series, adding new abilities, strengths and weaknesses during plot points, a feature that has continued to exert its influence to this day.
Included within this remixed version of the two classic RPG’s are an augmented save feature, to allow the ability to save anywhere they want at any time. This may seem like a trivial element, but it’s one that modern players take for granted. The original titles limited saves to specific areas and certain items only, meaning that gamers would have to hope to reach a safe area to preserve their progress or heal their party. Additionally, a feature called Collections has been provided that gives players an extra glance into each game. Stocked with detailed information on monsters and items collected in the game, as well as artwork by the famous Yoshitaka Amano, this section is basically an encyclopedia on these two Final Fantasy Universes.
Along with these gameplay tweaks come a few augmentations to the graphics and sound. Both games have received a 16-bit facelift to approximate more of a 3D SNES look than their humble, spritely 8-bit beginnings. This is very noticeable during travel through the monster-infested countryside, entering a town or walking into a cave. Thanks to the additional space provided by the PlayStation’s format, each game now hosts newly CG-rendered movies and cutscenes explaining for vital moments during the story, including the intro. Battle has undergone this facelift as well, with characters popping out in 3D as opposed to their 2D ancestors, and cleaner, more dramatic animations for attacks and spells. Sound has also been bolstered from the basic MIDI squeezed from the old titles into full symphonic arrangements that manage to recreate the lightness of entering towns, the stress of random battles, and the significance of fighting archfiends or super-powerful demons.
Granted, Final Fantasy and FFII may come across to some players as a slow compilation of antiquated games that are overshadowed by later titles in its own series, such as FFVII or FFIX. This, however, is a gross error on their part, as these two titles not only set the foundation for these titles with features still found today, but they also redefined the role-playing genre. What’s more, Final Fantasy and FFII has something that many games nowadays either lack or feature poorly: a well-developed, creative and engaging plot. If you’re into RPG’s in any way, get to the store and get a copy of Final Fantasy Origins. You’ll have over a hundred hours of play in your hands, and you won’t regret a single minute of it.